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Dan Israel – Dan (Dan Israel)

Dan Israel - Dan
21 August 2016

From 1998-2013, prolific Minneapolis singer/guitarist Israel released a dozen albums, both solo and with his band The Cultivators, culminating in 2013’s career-summarizing retrospective, the 25-song double-LP Danthology. So you’d think he’d begin showing signs of slowing down on this, his 13th. Especially when you discover that the unluckily numbered Dan was written following the dissolution of his 16-year marriage – a “busted life dream,” as he admitted in an interview. (Funny side note: Dan’s seemingly mundane album title and cover art is actually a parody of rose-clutching, rainbow-dressed Christian vocalist Joyce Drake’s 1983 LP Joyce, which regularly appears on “worst album cover” lists!) But he’s not one to shy away from difficult subject matter, having tackled middle age malaise on his self-titled 2005 seventh album (my first introduction to him; see my review in issue 58), and penning a song (“Mile for Mile”) on his last LP, 2013’s Live On, for his stroke-afflicted friend, Replacements guitarist Slim Dunlap. Not withholding a whit, every song on Dan delves into the details leading up to or resulting from his divorce, while generally touching on the trivial but telling warning signs that can sour romances. For example, on the breezy, “Running on Empty”-like “You Don’t Love Me Anymore,” he ruminates on how once-special routines can suddenly turn rote, noting “You used to laugh at inside jokes/You’d have a beer I’d have my smoke.”

Meanwhile, Israel’s pointed lyrics on the jangly, horn-flecked “Be with Me” feel like they could’ve been lifted straight from a stress-filled spat with his significant other, as he heatedly hurls one last-ditch ultimatum after another. And on the twinkly, reflective “Two Bright Stars” – a reference to his children – he even holds out hope for a reconciliation, declaring, “Oh, and with the passing of time/We may love again sometime.” Yet despite Israel’s woeful words, his twangy, rustic-tinged arrangements are beguiling and buoyant, thanks to his capable core backing band of David J. Russ on drums, Mike Lane on bass, and James Tyler O’Neill on keys. As well, his relaxed yet resilient, Paul Westerberg-meets-Elvis Costello croon benefits from the heavenly harmonies of Bethany Larson (of Twin Citians Bethany Larson & the Bee’s Knees) and Katie Gearty, the soulful trumpet of Paul Odegaard, and a generous gaggle of other guests including Son Volt’s Dave Boquist, HoneydogsAdam Levy, and Ol’ Yeller’s Rich Mattson. Perhaps Israel’s pain is most palpable on the plodding “Try and Let You Know,” as the realization of his relationship’s end hits him like a sack of potatoes. But on the short, softly-strummed closer “Now You’re On Your Own,” he steadfastly accepts his solitary circumstances, stating, “Quit looking ‘round for that fairy tale ending.” Here’s hoping Israel’s forthcoming life fortunes continue to furnish fertile – albeit more favorably themed! – fodder for his next 13 LPs. (